Drew Storen

One of the most persistent rumors of this year’s trade deadline has been of a deal involving Denard Span and Washington Nationals closer Drew Storen. Storen is pretty consistently praised as an upper echelon relief pitcher: “an ideal long-term closing solution“, “young, cheap,…great upside, an [sic] shutdown closer“, and “about everything you could want – youth, a power arm, ability to get a strikeout and club-controlled paychecks for several years“. I knew very little about Storen prior to these rumors, and thought it would be informative to see how well he justifies the hype.

The #10 overall pick in the 2009 draft Storen flew through the minors, spending minimal time in A, AA, and AAA before making his big league debut with the Nationals in May 2010, less than one year after being drafted. John Sickels ranked him 3rd among Washington prospects prior to 2010, and Keith Law had him as the 92nd best prospect in baseball. In slightly over 100 innings in his career, Storen has posted a 3.15 ERA with 30 saves and has seemingly established himself as one of the premier young relief pitchers in the game.

I think I’m missing something, however, since his underlying numbers are less impressive. Using FanGraphs’ pitching leaderboards, we can see how Storen stacks up against the 138 other relief pitchers who have thrown at least 31 innings over the past two seasons. Listed below are Storen’s career numbers for a variety of pitching statistics, as well as where he ranks among all relievers over the last two seasons:

xFIP: 3.32 (51st out of 139)
tERA: 3.08 (44th)
SIERA: 2.89 (48th)
K/9: 7.92 (62nd)
K%: 21.6% (56th)
BB/9: 2.90 (45th)
Swinging strike%: 8.6% (81st)
FB velocity: 94.6 mph (25th)
Ground ball %: 45.7% (65th)

Especially concerning to me is his swinging strike percentage. This percentage is extremely highly correlated with strikeout rate (unsurprisingly) and is actually more predictive of future strikeout rate than strikeout rate itself (more surprising). While Storen’s velocity suggests that he should be able to generate strikeouts quite effectively, the swinging strike percentage shows that, at least thus far in his career, that translation has not been made. For comparison, former Twin Jesse Crain has the exact same average fastball velocity over the past two season as Storen, Crain has a SwSt% of 10.8%, ranking 35th among relievers. Also alarming is the fact that current Twins reliever non grata Matt Capps sports a nearly-identical-to-Storen SwSt% of 8.5% over the past two years.

Now, all of this is not to say that Drew Storen is a terrible pitcher: he is still quite young, very cheap, is praised by scouts, and may just need a bit more experience to turn his tools into production. While he may become a top closer, I’m not seeing the assertion that he’s already there. It’s definitely possible that I’m missing seeing, so let me have it in the comments if I am, but right now I’m seeing a reliever who’s (unsustainable) .221 BABIP this season is driving his gaudy 2.68 ERA and 0.95 WHIP, and would expect all those numbers to regress as the season goes on.

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When I Go Deaf

Today we revisit the PitchFX plots we talked about the last time I posted, some decades ago. While that post used last year’s PitchFX data, we now have up-to-date data for the entire Twins staff in 2011, so we’ll use that (also because, until I learn Perl, getting these numbers can be extremely tedious). In this look at Scott Baker, it was tough to see much of interest. Most of his pitches tended to be clustered around the strike zone, but, at least to my eye, it wasn’t clear if there was anything of interest beyond that. Comparing pitchers side-by-side is a bit more revealing.

Below we have side-by-side comparisons of Scott Baker/Carl Pavano, Nick Blackburn/Anthony Swarzak (because I needed a 4th righty), and Francisco Liriano/Brian Duensing. I’d recommend clicking on the plots in order to enlarge them, as it should be easier to make out the details that way. I also note that I am primarily looking at vertical locations on these; horizontal location is also interesting, but is also influenced by which side of the plate the batter is on, so that will be a subject for later.

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“TEN TWIN’S THOUGHTS”

MAUER FOR KEMP: MAUER IS HITTING .750/.773/.950 LIFETIME AGAINST THE DODGERS

MORNEAU TO THE JAYS: IT MAKES SENSE

MAUER FOR BERKMAN AND FERNANDO SALAS

MAUER FOR HANRAHAN, ALVAREZ, MCCUTCHEON: GOOD TEAMS PAY FOR SAVES, THE PIRATES NEED A FACE OF THE FRANCHISE (FOTF)

MAUER FOR FELIX AND ACKLEY: WORKS FOR BOTH SIDES

MAUER AND MORNEAU FOR HARPER AND STRASBURG: WHO SAYS NO?

MAUER FOR HANLEY: IT SEEMS LIKE HE ONLY DOES WELL WHEN HE’S IN FLORIDA REHABBING

MAUER FOR BRAUN AND GREINKE: GET HIM OUT OF THE SPOTLIGHT; HITTING IN FRONT OF FIELDER WOULD BE GREAT

MAUER FOR LONGORIA: AFTER THE GARZA TRADE, THE RAYS OWE US ONE

MAUER FOR IKE DAVIS, DAVID WRIGHT: KRIVSKY WORKS FOR THE METS AND WE KNOW HE LIKES CRAPPY TWINS PLAYERS AND IKE DAVIS IS FROM COON RAPIDS

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Shake and Baker

This may be more interesting to me than to others, but I’m posting it regardless. Baseball research is moving forward at an incredible pace, and that is not necessarily restricted to statistical advances. PitchFX, Hit Tracker, and the upcoming Field FX are all examples of tools that are providing ways of capturing what happened in a baseball game that would have been considered pipe dreams even a decade ago. Today we’re dealing with PitchFX. If you’ve monitored games via MLB’s Gameday, you’re probably familiar with this tool, which, as one might expect from the name, provides pitch data: speed, release point, where it crossed the plate, what kind of a pitch it was, an ill-defined and nebulous “nasty factor”. While perhaps not a boon for umpires, it’s a great development for anyone who wants to better understand the game. Or, who just wants to bring attention to Delmon Young’s frustrating lack of plate discipline.

What I only recently realized was that not only can one evaluate statistics based on this technology from sites like FanGraphs, one can also freely access the data in a more raw form. If one is so inclined, the outstanding Brooks Baseball provides not only myriad summary stats and plots, but also the opportunity to muck around with the raw data. Due to a personal excess of derring-do this past weekend, I looked at every pitch Scott Baker threw in 2010, and put together some plots that I found interesting. Why? Because I use my time wisely.

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Basic Science

Drew Butera in 2011, sans moustache: 100 PA, 0 HR.

Drew Butera in 2011, with moustache: 3 PA, 1 HR.

I hope you’re taking notes, Pavano.

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I Assure You, We’re Open

Brief programming note: reardon and I will probably continue to be scarce for the next week or two, so we beg for your patience until we are able to return to the important task of deriding Drew Butera (yes, I realize he hit a homer tonight while I was writing this. the derision remains).
I assure you, we're open.In the meantime, I thought I’d comment on one of my greatest fears for the Twins franchise moving forward: that the front office is going to take the wrong lessons from the miserable failure of a bullpen that they have assembled this season. Last year the team had a number of relatively established bullpen arms like Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch, and Brian Fuentes who were allowed to leave in the off-season. Their replacements have underwhelmed.

So, I thought it could be informative to do a case study on how another team put together an effective bullpen. Using FanGraphs’ WAR calculations, the best bullpen in 2010 belonged to the San Diego Padres and was worth roughly 8 wins above replacement. Six relievers made 50+ appearances, and accounted for 7.3 of that WAR:

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The Book I Write

Narrative is a powerful force in sports. In life too, I guess, but let’s keep this to sports. There is a common and compelling urge to transform the actions of a group of grown men throwing a ball around an enclosed space into epics, tales of redemption, and bildungsromans. However, while this gives us a chance to try our hand at storytelling, it also puts us in the uncomfortable position of trying to create a traditional story arc (rising action…) for an unknown conclusion (climax, falling action). Think about how frequently the conclusion to serial television shows like Twin Peaks/Lost/Battlestar Galactica ends up disappointing loyal viewers, and then remember that in those shows the writers could at least theoretically know how they wanted their story to end – the sports fan does not have that comfort. And so we sally forth, digging up our David Ortiz jerseys from our stadium foundations, trying to combine essentially random events into some form that we can make sense of, knowing that, while Tom Berenger beating out a bunt to the 3rd baseman makes for the more satisfying finale, we’re probably just going to end up seeing Timothy Busfield get robbed by Ken Griffey Jr. Witness Francisco Liriano temporarily shake off his early season doldrums in order to throw a no-hitter and propel the struggling Twins to victory against the much-loathed White Sox, inspiring the Twins to…lose 9 of their next 11 contests.
Storytime Elf
But sometimes we do get the immediate payoff of a well-crafted story. Tonight, the Twins played their first home game since the passing of the legendary Harmon Killebrew, conducting a pre-game ceremony to honor the memory of someone who, by all accounts, was one of the most decent men to play the game. Returning from the disabled list was Twin DH Jim Thome, essentially the modern-day equivalent of Killebrew. And so it was only appropriate that Thome, who just last year was passing Killer on the all-time home run charts, made his return in style, homering twice in the first 8 innings. While this second blast gave the Twins a significant edge, the bullpen conspired to allow the Mariners to tie the game, sending us to the bottom of the 9th. The batting order for Minnesota? Jason Kubel, Justin Morneau, Alexi Casilla, Jim Thome. After Casilla worked a two out walk one could be forgiven for assuming that, at least this one time, fate was playing a role. What better tribute to the only man to wear #3 in franchise history than for his heir apparent to connect on a game-winning 3rd homer of the evening? It was perfect. Well, almost. The second pitch of the at-bat was wild, Casilla advanced to second, and the Mariners intentionally walked Thome in order to face the slightly-less-imposing Jason Repko, and the Twins lost.
Unpleasant Morning Surprise
Damn. Never mind all that narrative business – sometimes life is just the ending to Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

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